First of all, I thank my friend Mazhar Nawaz for inspiring me to write a review on this wonderful movie which I had seen long back on TV.
Talented lady director, Sai Paranjpye had carved a niche for herself through her maiden venture itself which was Sparsh (1980), a highly sensitive movie which can justifiably be considered a landmark of Hindi cinema. Thereafter she directed a hilarious comedy, Chashm-e-Baddoor (1981) starring Farrooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval. In 1983, she came up with Katha which is not a pure comedy like Chashm-e-Baddoor and in fact, a satirical comment upon today’s work culture, social system and values (especially in India).
We, as children, had been told (or made to read) the classic tale of a race between a hare and a tortoise which was won by the tortoise because he was slow but steady and went ahead, marching non-stop towards his destination whereas the hare lost because of his overconfidence and complacence prompting him to take a nap in between the race. Katha (anecdote) is a modern take on this ancient story underscoring the reality of the world which belongs to the smart and flashy hare and not the slow and steady, sincere, simple, honest tortoise.
The hare of the story is Basudev Bhattacharya played by Farooq Sheikh (for some reasons not known to me, Sai used the name of the famous Hindi movie director Basu Bhattacharya for this villaineous character of her satirical movie) and the tortoise is Rajaram played by Nasiruddin Shah. The backdrop of the story is a chawl of Mumbai in which Farooq arrives to live with his old mate Nasiruddin who loves his Padosan, i.e., Deepti but always hesitant to speak out his feelings. Since the very outset of their togetherness, Farooq, the hare starts getting the better of the tortoise, Nasiruddin everywhere – in the office and the job, in the bid of getting the love of Deepti and where not. The smart talker Farooq who is, in fact, a bluffmaster, is always able to get the best of everything by his sheer smart talk and showing off. He is exposed in the end and Nasiruddin is able to win the love of Deepti but Sai has very skillfully demonstrated the fact that Deepti is no longer the same girl now because of her proximity as well as emotional involvement with Farooq, through the ending scene in which the tortoise gets the bouquet after winning the race but that bouquet contains withered flowers. Anyway the perseverance and sincerety of the tortoise pays in the end whereas the hare flees away to befool somebody else now.
Katha manages to make the viewers laugh every now and then throughout the movie but remember, it is not a comedy but a satire. Hence alongwith the laughters, it conveys the serious message in a subtle manner. It is very difficult to find flaws in the movie or the narrative. Several scenes showing the race between the hare (Farooq) and the tortoise (Nasiruddin) with the win of the hare are highly impressive, underscoring the fact that in today’s world smart talk is given more weightage than genuine performance or virtues. You show off in an impressive manner, boast your false achievements and talk in a sugar-coated, subtly flattering way and you will get what you want whether or not you deserve it. A low profile, straightforward, good-hearted performer has to end up as a loser howsoever deserving he might be. The reason is simple. Sales-talk matters more than the real stuff.
Katha was in many ways, ahead of its time because the marketing era started in India since the late eighties when fancy, colourful packaging started getting more weightage than the quality of the product. The same thing is applicable to human beings also in the work culture of today’s India. Smartness counts (in appearance and talking) more than the ability and the performance. I can vouch for it after spending more than two decades in the working life, having served in both the private sector as well as the public sector. Good things do come to the patient and perseverant deserving ones but only when the better ones have already been grabbed by the smart and hollow talkers. It happens to Nasiruddin in the movie, our tortoise. Farooq has no regrets even in the end as he has grabbed enough and also availed the intimacy of Deepti. There is no dearth of supporters or opportunities for such people in the world. He will find newer ones ready to buy his smart talks and oblige him with favours.
The peformances are great. The movie is a male-oriented one and this is the only movie of Farooq and Deepti in which Deepti gets another hero in the end. Farooq Sheikh, in the only role of his life having grey shades, has delivered a towering performance and Nasiruddin Shah in the role of the low profile tortoise is not far behind in the race of acting. The supporting cast alongwith Deepti Naval has lent an excellent support to the our hare and tortoise duo. Even the smallest character of the movie is able to make an impact and that’s the identification of a good movie in the first place.
The music is according to the mood of the movie. The cameraman and the art director have been able to present a true glimpse of the chawl life of Mumbai (Bombay) three decades back. In fact, this is an outstanding movie where everything has been put in its right perspective and the mood of the movie has nowhere been disturbed throughout.
Katha is a treat to watch for all – the entertainment seekers as well as the message seekers. It is a glaring example of excellence in Indian cinema. I always surprise why such purely Indian movies with original concept and superfine execution are not sent as Indian entry for the Oscars. Katha is a timeless classic, for sure.
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